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Mayor challenges DM Register

Monday, November 11, 2002

Gets an apology for housing story

Storm Lake Mayor Jon Kruse decided that a recent Des Moines Register article titled "Bleak and Broken" gave his city a black eye it doesn't deserve.

Kruse sent the following letter to the Register to challenge the story on a woman living in substandard housing.

Dear Mr. Editor:

As Mayor of Storm Lake I would like to take a few minutes to comment on an article that ran in your Sunday, October 13, 2002 paper titled "Bleak and Broken". As a part of this series of articles, you ran information on Storm Lake, Iowa that was misleading towards the City. Your article, through a highlight of a rural home near Storm Lake, leads the reader to believe that poor housing conditions exist within the governmental jurisdiction of Storm Lake.

In fact the City of Storm Lake has an aggressive rental housing inspection program and an aggressive nuisance abatement program, Operation Clean Sweep. Our rental-housing program will inspect all 850 living units in 586 total properties in four years. In January of 2003 we will begin a second round of inspections of all the rental properties in town.

This inspection program is designed to ensure the minimum required quality of living standards that you mentioned are lacking in our rural communities. Our Operation Clean Sweep program has been active since 1999 logging a total of 1,744 contacts. Combined, these programs have been the backbone of a city beautification and safety program.

The specific residential unit you mention lies outside the jurisdiction of the City of Storm Lake and thus is not included in the City's aggressive housing programs. While I completely agree that the poor living conditions that some Iowans are subjected to is pitiful, it is unfair for a person in your business to report a mere fraction of the total issue.

I would encourage you to research the entire story prior to printing information that unfairly tells the story. Had you attempted to contact city staff you would have been surprised to find that in the current year Operation Clean Sweep has had 411 contacts, thru September, and the Rental Housing Inspection Program has ensured that another 152 rental units meet those minimum standards of living.

Why not include with your article on substandard living conditions an attitude about what cities are doing to change those standards. This along with correct references to the actual location of the featured substandard residences would have greatly improved your story and your reporting reputation. A one sided story doesn't accomplish anything but hurt the welfare of all Iowans.


Jon F. Kruse, Mayor

City of Storm Lake

The city has received the following in reply, from Des Moines Register managing editor Richard Tapscott:

Dear Mr. Mayor: What can I say? We erred badly and owe you and the City of Storm Lake an apology.

Please do not place blame on the reporters involved. In their original copy, they made clear that Elm Stewart's residence was outside Storm Lake and thus not subject to aggressive enforcement. The point of telling Ms. Stewart's story was to underscore the lack of codes, inspection and enforcement in unincorporated areas of Iowa and to show that some people choose to or are forced to live in poor conditions. In the editing process, which included considerable shortening of the story and combining two draft articles, the fact that the house was outside Storm Lake was unfortunately omitted.

Please accept my apology. When we write about enforcement programs that work well, we will be sure to contact you.


Richard Tapscott

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